RAHM WINS RE-ELECTION BUT CHUY MOVES GRASSROOTS.A populist coalition upset with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s treatment of working-class neighborhoods won a historic victory of sorts when they forced the mayor into a runoff with progressive Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in March. But the populists were unable to overcome the advantages of incumbency, support from the Chicago Democratic machine, the support of the city’s two major newspapers, endorsement of President Obama and a campaign bankroll of more than $23.6 mln, compared with $6 mln for Garcia. Emanuel’s campaign was helped by millions more in spending by a separate campaign fund and an Emanuel-aligned “Super PAC,” John Nichols noted at TheNation.com (4/8).
Garcia won more than 250,000 votes (44% of the total) and the citywide coalition that supported him beat several City Council candidates allied with Emanuel. The challenger conceded on election night, but he did not sound defeated, Nichols noted. “We didn’t lose today. We tried today. We fought hard for what we believe in,” Garcia told a cheering crowd of supporters. “You don’t succeed at this or anything else unless you try. So keep trying. “
Emanuel alienated voters and got the moniker “Mayor 1%” by closing 50 schools in low-income neighborhoods, doubling water rates, installing speed cameras and nicking one-tenth of a second off red lights to trap more motorists into tickets, Edward McClelland noted at Salon.com (4/8). Garcia was dragged into the race last October, as the third choice of the progressive movement. The first choice, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, decided to run for re-election last November. The second choice, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, dropped out after developing a brain tumor, and drafted Garcia, who was unprepared for a mayoral campaign. After landing in the runoff, as the beneficiary of protest votes against Emanuel, Garcia didn’t reveal his plan for the city’s finances until 3/13, three-and-a-half weeks before the election.
Under Emanuel, the city’s bond rating has been downgraded five times, to two steps above junk status, and pensions are consuming an ever-increasing share of the city’s budget. Garcia proposed cutting Tax Increment Financing districts and share expenses with other governments. But he also suggested a graduated income tax, which is unconstitutional in Illinois, and put off more specific decisions by promising to form a committee to “examine the full range of existing and potential revenue options that are available to the city.” Asked in a debate who would serve on that committee, he responded that he was “not at liberty to say.”
Such vagueness allowed Emanuel to portray Garcia as a political weakling who would raise property taxes before demanding sacrifices from the city’s public sector unions.
Garcia had an answer for that in his concession speech, in which he implicitly blamed Emanuel for Chicago’s financial problems, because of his failure to make the city an attractive place to live. Chicago has led the nation in murders every full year of Emanuel’s mayoralty, its schools and neighborhoods have been neglected at the expense of downtown development, and its middle class feels nickel-and-dimed by traffic tickets and fees.
“We’ve got some big problems,” he said. “In the last 15 years, Chicago has lost 200,000 people. We have a debt crisis and a pension crisis. We have a growth crisis. That means people moving here, not leaving. That means a growing middle class. We can’t tax our way out of this crisis. We can only truly grow a way out. There are too many shootings. We need to end the violence. We need to end school closings and privatization. We need to stop paying so much attention to what happens downtown and more attention to what happens in our neighborhoods. A less violent city is a more attractive city. A city with good neighborhoods is a more attractive city. It’s a city that doesn’t have a pile of bills and a pile of discarded people it can’t afford to take care of.”
Despite their defeat, Chicago progressives were able to force Emanuel to the left. Last year, the mayor supported an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour. After Garcia promised to end the speed camera program, Emanuel pulled cameras off 25 street corners.
“Mayor Emanuel, in a sense he lost though he won,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who hugged Garcia when he appeared in the arena after the TV stations had predicted his defeat.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, who defeated a Machine-backed incumbent to win a seat in the state legislature, predicted that Garcia’s campaign would inaugurate an anti-establishment movement in Chicago.
“This campaign was up against impossible odds, and yet in an incredibly short span of time these people built a movement that pushed a political apparatus of nearly infinite resources to the brink of extinction,” Guzzardi said. “Movement building takes time. It’s not an overnight process. This movement’s going to keep growing.”
David Hatch, executive director of Reclaim Chicago, a grassroots effort jointly sponsored by the People’s Lobby and National Nurses United, in an email exchange with Richard Eskow described the vote which forced Emanuel into a runoff as “a clear rejection of corporate austerity politics,” adding: “Much like the election of Bill Di Blasio in New York, Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the Syriza victory in Greece, and the rise of Podemos in Spain, the vote in Chicago is indicative of widespread and deep dissatisfaction with a politics of the corporate austerity agenda.”
Asked how this election was likely to affect Chicago politics going forward, Hatch responded, “We’ve strengthened the progressive movement in Chicago, we’re in a better position to fight back.” He also noted that “with progressives still a minority” on the City Council, “Garcia alone could not have been our savior.”
“We’ve got tremendous work ahead of us,” said Hatch. “Chicago’s fiscal crisis is not unique. It is the result not just of poor decisions made in city council and in the mayors office, but is also the result of broader global and national economic conditions and state level politics. Right now, Illinois faces a six billion dollar budget deficit for next fiscal year, and the cuts coming down from Springfield will also hand the next mayor an even worse set of fiscal cards. We’ll see cuts to education, infrastructure, public transit, health care and much, much more.”
Writing in The Nation, Micah Utrecht profiled another activist group which expects to have a long-term impact on Chicago politics: United Working Families, a coalition founded by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Service Employees International Union, and “a passel of other unions and grassroots community groups.” He quotes a UWF board member, Matthew Luskin, as saying that the group isn’t just focused on winning the next election. “”It’s also about building space for movement politics,” said Luskin, “politics to the left of the Democrats — and trying to recruit people to those politics.”
National groups were active in the mayoral effort as well, including National People’s Action Campaign (NPAC), the Working Families Party, MoveOn, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the American Federation of Teachers. Their efforts resulted in an impromptu coalition that is likely to resurface in future races. In a published statement, NPAC Executive Director (and Chicago resident) George Goehl said that “we’re seeing a new left pole emerge in American politics.” Goehl added: “In cities across the country, progressive populists are talking on corporate politicians ... As discontent with a system that’s rigged in favor of corporations and the super-wealthy continues to grow, so too will a new political movement.”
On the same day the mayor was re-elected, Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed reported that Hillary Clinton would name Emanuel to her cabinet if she’s elected president. “That would be a good move for Rahm, after he nearly bungled away the mayor’s office to an obscurity,” McClelland noted. “He could avoid the humiliation of losing an election, or retiring to avoid better-prepared challengers emboldened by the fact that he was forced into a runoff this year. He’d be back in Washington, his natural environment, where his abrasiveness is considered colorful. In four years as mayor of Chicago, Emanuel has demonstrated he’s not an effective chief executive. He was perfect in the role of bullying donors and congressman for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Every leader needs someone to do his dirty work, but that someone is never beloved by the public.”
If Emanuel is called back to Washington, McClelland noted, a possible candidate to take his place as mayor is Patrick Daley Thompson, who is a grandson of the first Mayor Daley and was elected to the City Council on 4/7. “A Daley made way for Emanuel, and Emanuel could make way for another Daley, after keeping the seat warm for the city’s ruling family. The Daleys know how to wield power in Chicago. They would never have let a guy like Garcia get so close to the mayor’s office.”
DANNY SCHECHTER, ‘NEWS DISSECTOR,’ PASSES. Danny Schechter, a journalist, author, media critic and a contributor to The Progressive Populist, died in Manhattan of pancreatic cancer (3/19).
Schechter started out as “news dissector” of the Boston rock station WBCN-FM in Boston in the 1970s. John Nichol noted in The Nation (3/20), “Dissecting the news was Schechter’s thing. He reported to listeners what was happening, then he explained why it was happening, and then he revealed why other media outlets did not tell the whole story. It was bold and daring, and the word of what Danny Schechter was doing on one progressive-rock station in Boston spread far and wide. ‘As “News Dissector” on Boston radio,’ recalled Chomsky, ‘Danny Schechter literally educated a generation.’
“What distinguished Schechter, who died too young at age 72, was his merging of a stark and serious old-school I.F. Stone-style understanding of media power and manipulation with a wild and joyous Yippie-infused determination to rip it up and start again.
“Schechter was of his times. He marched for civil rights and against wars. He made common cause with hippies and Yippies. He danced and sang and inhaled. He was, he recalled, ‘a participatory journalist, a down-with-the-movement reporter, a manic media maven.’
After Schechter’s gig at WBCN, he went national, as a producer for the ABC newsmagazine 20/20, where he won two Emmy Awards, Nichols noted. He helped to get CNN started, served as an executive producer for Globalvision and as executive editor for MediaChannel.org. He developed and served as executive producer for the remarkable South Africa Now news magazine, which played a critical role in revealing the true story of apartheid and of the global anti-apartheid movement. He used television and film and books and the Internet—where he was a pioneering blogger on media issues—to reveal and challenge the failure of major media to expose human rights abuses abroad and corporate abuses at home.
One of Schechter’s great fights was to maintain local public-access television programming and new-media interventions by citizen journalists, Nichols noted. “That wasn’t a fight that many Emmy Award winners took on. But the guy who used to dissect the news on rock station out of Boston understood why it mattered.”
Schechter wrote for Newsday in 1993, “A growing segment of the public wants to be involved with new media. The boom in on-line computer networks and even radio talk shows demonstrates the demand and the need—which the media giants are unlikely to satisfy. Let’s hope that the Congressional watchdogs who are questioning the anti-trust implications of these new monopolies-in-the-making will speak out to preserve public access. In commercial television, everything is slick, but little matters. Its edges may be rough, but public access should matter to us—not only for what it is, but for what it can become.”
Schechter wrote 17 books, among them The More You Watch the Less You Know: News Wars/(sub)Merged Hopes/Media Adventures and Madiba A-Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. He also made more than 30 films, including six documentaries on Mr. Mandela and another titled WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, and had blogged since 2002, the New York Times reported (3/23).
“I know all this is easy for me to say,” Schechter wrote a year ago at CommonDreams.org. “All I seem to have these days is this keyboard to crank out more condemnations and calls to action, knowing full well, as I do it, that I don’t know what else to do. I am compelled to make media, compelled to do what I can, thinking modestly that perhaps somewhere, in hearts I don’t know, words or images can still stir souls to rise.”
RAND PAUL’S HOME STATE RELIES ON PROGRAMS HE’S VOWED TO DISMANTLE. Rand Paul became the second Republican to join the race for president (4/7). But his policies would devastate the people who are already suffering in one of the worst economies in the nation, Kira Lerner and Aviva Shen noted at ThinkProgress.org.
For example, although he did not address health care in announcing his presidential campaign, Rand Paul has said he will not rest until Obamacare is 100% repealed, preferring to rely on “freedom” in the health insurance marketplace. But Kentuckians living in rural parts of the state, which ranks among the most unhealthy in the nation, were among the groups that benefited most from the health care law. Before the health care law was signed, a staggering 640,000 people, or 15% of the state, lacked health insurance in Kentucky.
Gov. Steve Beshear (D) was an advocate for the law from the beginning. He urged his fellow Southern, red state governors to put the health of their citizens above politics. “There’s a huge disconnect between the rank partisanship of national politics and the outlook of governors whose job it is to help beleaguered families, strengthen work forces, attract companies and create a balanced budget,” the governor wrote in a New York Times op-ed (9/27/13).
In May 2014, after the first open enrollment, Beshear noted that over 421,000 Kentuckians — almost one in ten state residents — signed up for coverage through the state exchange. “I see the ACA’s positive impact first-hand in my home state, a place whose collective poor health has long been jeopardizing the lives and financial security of hard-working families who can’t seem to get ahead,” he wrote in a Huffington Post column in which he told Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “get out of the way” of the law.
He also noted that some 330,000 of Kentucky’s uninsured, mostly working poor, qualified for Medicaid under its expansion.
Kentucky was the only Southern state that agreed to both expand Medicaid and set up its own exchange. And both measures had positive impacts on the state’s economy. A study conducted before the implementation found that the expansion of Medicaid would inject $15.6 bln in Kentucky’s economy over eight years, create 17,000 jobs and help the budget improve by $802.4 mln – all vital steps forward in a state that recently had the sixth worst unemployment rate in the nation.
Kynect, the state exchange, is popular enough among Kentuckians that Paul has said publicly that the state could keep its exchange, even if Obamacare were to be repealed.
Paul has also made clear that he would take down the social safety net as president, even comparing food stamps to slavery. But nearly 900,000 Kentuckians — one in five residents — struggle to get by on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), even as benefits have shrunk over the past few years. Meanwhile, food banks in Kentucky have picked up the slack; 56% of organizations in the state had to serve more people this year than last, as more than 600,000 people visited food banks in 2014, according to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.
Paul believes food stamp recipients are abusing the system to “buy junk food” and “McDonalds,” but 91% of Kentucky food bank clients reported that they bought unhealthy food because it was the cheapest way to feed their families.
Paul also opposes setting a minimum wage, let alone increasing it. About 49,000 Kentuckians earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or less, but even that falls short of how much it costs to live in the state. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a Kentucky family making minimum wage would still be stuck deep in poverty.
Nevertheless, Paul has dismissed concerns over poverty, asserting that “the rich are getting richer, but the poor are getting richer even faster.”
FEDS ADMIT POT CAN KILL TUMORS. The propaganda war about marijuana may have turned a new page with the federal government’s acknowledgment of a recent study that found the plant can significantly reduce aggressive types of brain tumors when combined with radiation treatment, endorsing what medicinal marijuana advocates have long affirmed as its healing properties, Sam P.K. Collins noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/6).
A team of researchers from St. George’s University of London recorded reductions in high-grade glioma masses — a deadly form of brain cancer — in mice. The mice’s tumors shrank after they were exposed to radiation in tandem with two marijuana compounds: THC, which creates the “high feeling,” and CBD, which has no psychoactive side effects. In their report, the researchers said that both cannabinoids made tumors more receptive to the radiation treatment, creating what lead author Dr. Wai Lui described to HuffPost as a “triple threat” approach.
“We’ve shown that cannabinoids could play a role in treating one of the most aggressive cancers in adults,” Liu wrote in an op-ed earlier this year. “The results are promising…it could provide a way of breaking through glioma and saving more lives.”
TEXAS CITY GOES ALL-IN FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY. The city of Georgetown, Texas, has announced plans to replace traditional electricity sources, such as coal- and gas-powered plants, with renewable fuels, such as wind and solar energy to meet its customers’ power needs, the Texas Tribune reported (3/18).
The city-owned utility in the suburb of Austin with 55,000 population, announced a 25-year-deal with SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, to buy 150 megawatts of solar power from plants in West Texas beginning next year. Last year, Georgetown signed a contract with EDF for 144 megawatts of wind energy from West Texas through 2039.
A megawatt can power as many as 100 Texas homes on the hottest summer days, the Tribune noted. During average temperatures, it can power many times more.
Keith Hutchinson, the city’s spokesman, said the deals locked in cheaper electricity than what the city’s expiring contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority guaranteed. LCRA generates about 59% of its power from coal, 34% from natural gas and 7% from solar and wind energy.
Among the few US cities that have gone all-renewable are Burlington, Vt.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Aspen, Colo.
Jim Briggs, interim city manager of Georgetown, told the Guardian (3/28) that customers would have the security of a fixed-rate plan that will be similar to the currnet cost of about 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour and will protect them against fluctuations in the price of fossil fuels. The city utility also will be able to buy and sell electricity to the Texas grid — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
KANSAS TAX EXPERIMENT FORCES SCHOOLS TO CUT ACADEMIC YEAR. When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) launched his radical economic plan, which cut taxes far beyond what his state could afford, he called it “a real-live experiment.” The governor said at the time, “We’ll see how it works.”
More than four years later, Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog.com (4/6), Brownback’s plan has resulted in debt downgrades, weak growth and state finances in shambles. The latest data adds insult to injury: “State figures released [3/31] showed that tax revenue came in $11.2 mln below expectations in March, the latest in a string of lower-than-expected tax receipts.” The report came two weeks after the governor said his plan is “working.”
It’s reached the point where a pair of Kansas public school districts will close down early this school year because the state won’t furnish the resources necessary to allow these communities to finish out the academic calendar.
“We are popular with the kids but not the parents,” Concordia district Superintendent Bev Mortimer told the Wichita Eagle after announcing that her schools will shut down six days earlier than planned. In the Twin Valley district, just south of Mortimer’s terrain, schools are closing down 12 days ahead of schedule. The districts are “losing $51 mln they expected to receive for the current school year after Gov. Sam Brownback signed a school funding overhaul bill in March,” the paper explains. Brownback disputes that causal claim, but the school board in Twin Valley specifically referenced “mid-year, unplanned financial cuts recently signed into law.”
Brownback has followed through on a promise to all but erase the state’s income tax code, ditching all taxes on a class of businesses known as “pass-through entities,” Many of the people who rely on the pass-through structure for tax purposes are only which collect royalties or other non-wage compensation from something that isn’t a standard payroll job.
“Brownback chased that major overhaul with other, more standard conservative tax-slashing policies, with the full pricetag for the near-total Reaganing of Kansas coming in over a billion dollars,” Alan Pyke noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/3). “The result has been massive deficits that endanger public services like roads, schools, and pension contributions for public employees. The only concession the governor has made to fiscal reality is proposing a combination of regressive sales tax hikes and higher ‘sin taxes’ on cigarettes and alcohol.”
On school funding, Kansas had already slashed its spending on schools from 2009 to 2011 during the recession, as many states did as part of a scramble to maintain balanced budgets amid the downturn. And while Brownback has made nominal increases in state spending on education, the structures of those increases have undermined local governments’ ability to furnish school money themselves. The result is that total schools funding has been basically flat in inflation-adjusted terms ever since Brownback took over, despite a larger portion of all public education spending coming from the state level in his tenure. And with the move to block-grants this spring, Brownback essentially pulled the plug on the complicated funding formula that is supposed to ensure more-or-less equitable funding for educating kids in both rich and poor districts.
From 2008 to 2014, Kansas has cut per-pupil spending by $950, more than all but two states. That roughly 16.5% cut in the resources available to educate Kansan kids has brought some dire consequences — like school nurses being told to put wet sponges in a freezer because real ice packs are just too expensive — and the ire of the state Supreme Court, which has ruled that Brownback is overseeing unconstitutionally low education spending.
None of this is paying off, Pyke noted. The state’s economy is growing more slowly than the national average, and the poverty rate has risen steadily.
Rather than take a look at the tax policies that have ruined state finances, Benen noted that Kansas Republicans appear to have a very different priority in mind: imposing new restrictions on how welfare recipients can receive and spend limited benefits.
Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to get more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent to Brownback’s desk by the state legislature.
The bill also prohibits welfare recipients from spending their benefits at certain types of businesses, including liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools and cruise ships.
As Arthur Delaney reported at HuffingtonPost.com (4/4), under Kansas’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, a low-income family of three is eligible to receive $429 per month in benefits through government-issued debit cards. But under the new Republican plan, families would have to receive those benefits in increments of no more than $25 per day – and the overall monthly total would be reduced through a series of withdrawal fees.
Under the new rule, a three-person family receiving the maximum benefit would have to go to the ATM more than a dozen times to get the full benefit in cash, which would be whittled away by a $1 fee for each withdrawal. And the local cruise liner ATM will no longer be an option.
“This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent,” Liz Schott of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in an email. “Moreover, it actually takes money from the pockets of poor families [in fees].”
STINGY CONGRESS PUTS FOOD SUPPLY AT RISK. Five years after the passage of sweeping food safety legislation that gave the Food and Drug Administration power to prevent future outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, lawmakers haven’t fully funded programs that would realize the goals of the law,Sam P.K. Collins reported at ThinkProgress.org (4/7).
The Food Safety Modernization Act, which gives the FDA mandatory recall authority along with other expanded regulatory powers, needed a total of $580 mln since 2011 to be effective, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Congress, however, has doled out less than half that amount, even with some provisions set to go into effect this year.
Agency officials said the budget shortfall undermines their efforts to significantly improve the food safety system that has failed to prevent nearly 48 mln foodborne illnesses annually, nearly 3,000 of which result in death. A report released by a trio of federal agencies in February confirmed that bacteria like E.coli, campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella are found in common food like beef, chicken, dairy, vegetables, and fruit.
Without substantial funds, the FDA hasn’t been able to modernize its inspection process and retain nearly 2,000 inspectors and other staff members crucial to its mission. The federal agency has also had difficulty overseeing food imports and providing guidance to state inspection groups. A recent GAO report found that the government agency fell short in its goal to inspect at least 4,800 facilities by 2014, only carrying out its mission in less than a third.
The FDA recently asked Congress to allocate $109.5 mln for the upcoming year — nearly $80 mln more than last year’s amount, but half of what will help the agency meet its food safety modernization goals. It remains to be seen, however, if a Republican-controlled Congress will fulfill the request. But Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Conn.), one of the authors of the law, says GOP lawmakers have no choice. “If we keep shortchanging the FDA, it will continue to cost us billions of dollars a year to deal with food-borne illness,” DeLauro, a member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the agency’s funding, told the New York Times.
From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2015
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